Cook led county in scoring junior, senior yearsMay 28, 2020
BY COREY STOLZENBACH
When sports fans hear of “The Splendid Splinter,” they may default to thinking of baseball’s Ted Williams, whose .406 batting average in 1941, 521 career home runs and two MVPs catapulted him to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and a legacy as one of the greatest players who ever lived.
This is Indiana, though, where basketball is king, and Birdseye’s own Splendid Splinter got the nickname not from a comparison to Teddy Ballgame, but for former Indiana University star Jimmy Rayl.
He may not have been the original “Splendid Splinter,” but it’s a nickname Jeff Cook proudly carries with him to this day.
“That would be Jerry Birge (who gave him the nickname),” Cook said. “He was the sports editor at The Herald when I was in high school, and he gave me a lot of good press. He started calling me the Splendid Splinter and it kind of stuck. So, we can thank him for that.”
He wasn’t the first basketball player in his family. His older brother, Joe, played for the Birdseye Yellow Jackets along with Roy Partenheimer, whom Jeff considered to be a hero and modeled his game after. Jeff remembers constantly having a basketball in his hand from the time seven or eight years old, playing on dirt courts and shooting hoops every chance he got.
Jeff would play against Joe, and big brother would win, but he also encouraged him.
“He just wanted me to stay active, to have something to do,” he said. “It’s a small town and everybody wanted to play basketball and play baseball. That’s all we did when we grew up.”
Jeff couldn’t have imagined when he was an underclassman, though, that he would go on to lead Dubois County in scoring his junior and senior years.
“I hadn’t really come out of my shell when I was a sophomore,” Jeff said. “I was still pretty shy and pretty laid back.”
He had a broken arm early his sophomore year, and doesn’t think he would’ve made much of a difference on varsity. Jeff spent a lot of time on junior varsity and got more playing time on the floor at that, and he learned to use his right hand more.
Cook thought things began to click when he was a junior. The Yellow Jackets lost some players from the 1968-69 team to graduation, such as Mike Bebee and Darrell DeKemper, who were prominent scorers on a Birdseye team that finished that year at 5-15.
Cook also experienced a growth spurt between the time he was a sophomore and a senior. He could not have anticipated entering his junior year the success he would have on the court the next two years.
He led all of Dubois County in scoring as a junior, and he concluded the regular season with an emphatic 40-point performance in the finale against Portland Christian on Feb. 20, 1970. He totaled 466 points, averaging 23.3 per game, helping the Yellow Jackets to a 9-11 record.
The Herald reported in the Feb. 24, 1970, edition that he sprained his ankle the day before and could have missed the sectional as a result.
“It seems like all through high school, I had my ankles taped and I wore supports,” he said. “I had to wear a high tennis shoe. They just weren’t very good.”
However, winning a game come sectional time eluded Cook and the Yellow Jackets. He always wanted to win one, but Holland eliminated Birdseye, 75-51, in the 1970 sectional, ending its season at 9-12.
Cook was more of a ball handler and penetrator his junior year, but transitioned to center as a senior given the growth spurt he had. He played more with his back to the basket in the post in 1970-71.
Regardless of his position on the floor, stopping Jeff Cook proved to be a tall order, and many teams failed.
“We had a good team, and we worked the ball really well,” Cook said. “We tried to run whenever we could. I got a lot of baskets on secondary fast breaks where I’d bring up the rear on a fast break and they would get me the ball, and it seems like I rebounded really well that year. I had one game I scored a lot of points, but I think most of them was off my own misses. I had several rebounds that game, too.”
Statistically speaking, his senior year was even better than his junior year. Jeff scored 497 regular-season points with an average of 24.9 per game. He was again the county scoring champ, and this time, it wasn’t just individual success for Cook in 1970-71. The Yellow Jackets finished the regular season at 15-5, their best record ever.
However, Birdseye proved to be no match for Dubois in the 1971 sectional. The Yellow Jackets started the game on a 7-0 lead, only for the Jeeps to erase that early deficit and run off with a 66-46 win.
“I know we could’ve gave them a better game or we should’ve gave them a better game,” Cook said. “It was just something that the wheels just fell off that game, for some reason.”
That turned out to be the last Birdseye game ever, since Birdseye and Ferdinand consolidated into Forest Park in 1971. Cook missed out on consolidation, though it got to him in the team’s last home game, and especially during the sectional.
Looking back on it, though, he would have liked to have played on the Forest Park team. Cook went to the University of Evansville and worked for Indiana’s state highway department for a bit. He also worked at Southern Railway for approximately 13 years before spending the next 27 years as a courier for FedEx.
People can visit Cook and patronize him today — he’s the owner of the Broadway House Bistro in Princeton.
“I retired from FedEx on a Friday in 2014, and the Bistro opened to the public on Monday,” he said. “It’s been open about six years, about as long as I’ve been retired. It’ll be six years this July. It’s my daughter (Brynn Blankenberger) and my wife (Donna) and myself. It’s kind of a family thing.”
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